You have to be tough to teach today.

Recent debate on stress has focused on its impact on teachers.   Example: an experienced, dedicated teacher was banned from teaching for life after beating a 14 year old with a dumb-bell, after being repeatedly taunted and goaded by the class.  At his court hearing, he said that “lots of teachers are ticking time bombs” (Guardian, July 2011).

Stress is important but it is possible to place two individuals in the same working environment and find one succumbs to the pressure of stress and another thrives.

The difference between the two can be described as “Mental Toughness”.  This explains how individuals develop resilience, an inner drive to succeed and as a key component for teacher/tutor performance.

Research shows that Mental Toughness is closely linked to:

  • Performance – explains up to 25% in the variation in performance
  • Behaviour – more engaged, more “can do” attitude
  • Well-being – more contentment, better stress management
  • Aspirations – more ambitious, prepared to manage more risk

Research in the Psychology Department at the University of Hull (under the direction of Dr Peter Clough) has identified four key components of Mental Toughness:

  1. Control
  2. Challenge
  3. Commitment
  4. Confidence


Individuals who feel they are in control of their work and of their environment. They are more confident about working in complex or multi-tasked situations.


Or an individual’s ability to carry out tasks successfully despite setbacks that arise.


This describes the extent to which individuals see problems as threats or opportunities.  Some will identify them as ways for self development.  Others will perceive them as threats and prefer stability.


Or individuals who have the self-belief to successfully complete tasks, which may be considered too difficult by others.  High scoring individuals will take setbacks  and awkward people in their stride.

Applications of Mental Toughness

The Mental Toughness model has clear applications for people who work in schools subject to stress, pressures and challenges.

It is invaluable as a staff development tool to identify those more effective at coping with stress and at helping identify a school’s culture.

Increased Awareness

The challenge lies in identifying what might be the cause of stress for individuals and to help the individual to become more aware of this. Awareness leads to understanding leads to positive action leads to improved performance in the classroom.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Anna Golawski started coaching as part of her MBA using a “Mental Toughness” psychometric tool. She’s spent fifteen years in business, working at Harrods, IBM and Rolls Royce and has written “Coaching in Education”.

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